China-Africa Defense and Security Cooperation in the New Era
By Prof. Wang Bin, International College of Defense Studies, National Defense University Translated by Qi Xiaotong
China and Africa have a shared future,the two rise and fall as one, they also share similar interests of win-win cooperation. In the new era, with the acceleration of the construction under Belt And Road Initiative and the gradual implementation of Africa’s Agenda 2063, the common interests and room for cooperation between China and Africa have been expanding. As one of the top ten areas of cooperation between China and Africa, defense and security cooperation is a basic approach to jointly safeguarding regional and world peace as well as promoting common interests. Four African countries will be included as destinations of President Xi's first overseas visit after re-election. The China-Africa Cooperation Forum to be held in Beijing in September will play an important role in guiding and promoting China-Africa defense and security cooperation in the new era.
Profound Historic Heritage of China-Africa Defense and Security Cooperation
China and African countries have established brotherhood through mutual support and assistance. Since the founding of new China, Egypt, Algeria, Guinea, Morocco and other African countries have successively recognized China. In 1956, China provided free assistance to Egypt and supported Egypt's just action to reclaim the Suez Canal, kicking off China's security assistance to Africa. Before the reform and opening up, China provided funds, weaponry and personnel training assistance to more than 20 African countries, including Algeria, Angola and Mozambique, to support the national liberation movements of African countries.
On the heels of the reform and opening up, China gradually promoted multi-level and multi-field defense and security cooperation worldwide, based on its judgment of the theme of the era——peace and development, adapting to the needs of the country's reform and opening up, and adhering to an independent foreign policy of peace. China's support of African liberation movements greatly declined, with aid model morphing from mainly gratuitous aid into miscellaneous measurements comprising free aid, loan assistance, sending military observers and military advisers, as well as sending established engineering, medical and transportation units, participating in UN peacekeeping operations in west Sahara, Mozambique, Liberia, Congo (Kingshasa), Darfur, and the list goes on. China-Africa Cooperation Forum, starting in 2000, has played a significant role in promoting all-round cooperation between China and Africa, including defense and security cooperation.
China’s security assistance and cooperation, help to win political and diplomatic support from African countries, serving as a momentous strategic foothold for easing the antagonistic outer environment looming over the founding of the country, addressing the influence of the two superpowers, U.S. and USSR, returning to UN and assuaging tension from the West, meanwhile laying a solid foundation for the subsequent China-Africa defense and security cooperation.
The Promotion of China-Africa Defense and Security Cooperation has Epoch-making Significance Attached
In general, the security situation in Africa is in a relatively stable phase, but there are still traditional and non-traditional security threats lurking. The military coup in Mali in 2012, the handover of power in Zimbabwe in 2017 and the fighting between different factions after the Libyan war still have important influence on relevant countries and regional stability. The "Arab spring", the Libyan war, to a certain extent, provide the breeding soil for terrorism. Mutual penetration, frenetic activities of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabab, Boko Haram , formed an "Arc of Instability" stretching from Somalia to the Maghreb, crossing Sahel region to West Africa. Although the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a traditional pirate disaster area, has somewhat eased, the number of piracy cases in the Gulf of Guinea has increased significantly. Infectious diseases and climate changes also pose threats to the security of the African region.
Security in Africa is not solely about Africa's own development, it also concerns the security of Chinese enterprises and personnel in Africa. The 2011 Libyan war forced the evacuation of 35, 000 Chinese workers who were looted, kidnapped and even killed in Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria and other countries. At present, with the strategy of "going global" continues to advance, China's interests in Africa keep on expanding. By the end of 2017, China's total investment in Africa has exceeded 100 billion US dollars, with more than 3,500 companies and 1 million Chinese citizens settling in Africa. Through the implementation of the "Belt and Road" Initiative and Africa's Agenda 2063, China's interests in Africa will further expand, and China's enterprises, investment and personnel in Africa will continue to increase. Safeguarding overseas interests, including those in Africa, has become an important part on the national security agenda. Senior foreign military officers studying at National Defense University generally believe that defense and security cooperation with host countries is the main avenue for China to safeguard its overseas interests.
Compared with regional security threats, the security capabilities of African countries and the African region are evidently inadequate. Nine of the world's 10 poorest countries in 2018 are African countries. Some African countries are heavily dependent on external assistance to sustain their government spending,while defense and security are left with very limited investment,their armed forces are facing challenges such as shortage of funds, inadequate personnel training and underdeveloped equipment. The African union and major sub-regional organizations are also facing shortage of funds. The African Union requested member states to donate peace funds in support of its peace and security operations since 2016. It is also imperative for African Union and sub-regional organizations to recruit enough troops or police to join the standby force, and ensure that the troops are well equipped with weapons, logistics and health protection.
Deepening China-Africa defense and security cooperation, especially in the areas of financial support, personnel training, equipment assistance, professional exchanges and military training, will help African countries and regional/sub-regional organizations in Africa enhance their security capabilities so as to use their strength to safeguard China's interests in Africa. Meanwhile maintaining peace and stability in the African region is also a way to demonstrate China's responsibility and undertaking as a major country.
The Promotion of China-Africa Defense and Security Cooperation Faces New Challenges
In recent years, the sense of sovereignty and autonomy among African countries have been further awakened, accompanied by a sense of disappointment towards the cooperation with the“self-centered” western countries, and tiredness of the political strings attached and interference in the internal affairs under the camouflage of assistance. It is recognized by senior African military officers studying at National Defense University that interference from major countries is one of the primary security threats facing African countries,they hope to shake off western control and thus achieve defense independence.
Ever since the financial crisis in 2008, western countries have experienced sluggish economic recovery and protruding domestic issues. Their attention to the African region has greatly reduced as well as their ability and willingness to provide security assistance. U.S. President Donald Trump cut foreign aid funding by a large margin when he took office, resulting in the international aid budget dropping from $5.95 billion in 2010 to $4.17 billion in 2019. Member states' financial status has incurred in the EU scaling back its support for the peace and security operations of African Union. The EU's decision to scale back funding for the African union's peacekeeping operation in Somalia (AMISON), for example, has exposed AU to enormous fiscal pressure.
China is now closer to the center of the global stage than never before, with a sharply mounting international influence. From 2010 to 2012, China's outbound foreign aid has accumulated to 89.34 billion yuan, mainly targeting Asian and African countries. China strictly adheres to the principles of “non-interference in internal affairs” and “no political strings attached” in its defense and security cooperation with Africa. China attaches great importance to Africa's sovereignty and its own "blood-making" function while emphasizing common interests, mutual respect, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. It is the wish of African countries that China should be a reliable and solid partner,backing African countries, particularly in the face of western pressure.
Broad Prospects of China-Africa Defense and Security Cooperation Development
In the field of defense and security cooperation, Both China and Africa have a glorious history and have yielded fruitful results. Against the backdrop of unprecedented practical needs and cooperative opportunities, China-Africa defense and security cooperation will surely achieve new development. In general, the structure of China-Africa defense and security cooperation resembles an umbrella. China-AU cooperation, China-Africa Cooperation Forum are at the central axis, gradually enlarging to the cooperation between China and sub-regional organizations, China and African countries. While emphasizing the role of the African Union and valuing the overall cooperation between China and Africa,targeted cooperation should be carried out in accordance with the varied security concerns and practical capabilities of individual region and country.
In terms of personnel training, China mainly provides military officers from African countries with opportunities to study in China, enrolling in occupational training of primitive, intermediary and advanced levels respectively as well as short-term exchanges. In the future, we should explore more types of opportunities including national training and symposiums,and consider opportunities of different forms, including assistance in hardware facilities,dispatching experts to help with teaching and sending delegations of specialists to give lectures, etc. We should provide African officers with opportunities to learn Chinese through local Confucius institutes or military colleges, dispatch training units to help train African national forces or the standby forces of African Union and sub-regional organizations. At the same time, the two sides should strengthen cooperation between military institutions, and China should send more military students to African military institutions.
In terms of military aid and military trade, China's non-weapon export to Africa mainly focuses on improving African countries' own security capabilities, so as to maintain peace and stability, cope with terrorism, natural disasters and other non-traditional security threats, evidently, the scale of export is quite small. In the future, China could level up support and export massive equipment,increase assistance to regional/sub-regional organizations in Africa, enabling them to play a greater role in regional peace and stability; Ships, aircraft or machinery repair plants could be established in areas that host an intensive amount of export destination countries to strengthen the repair and maintenance of export equipment.
With regards to joint military exercise and training, China and Africa have only conducted a few cooperative activities, including joint training on medical services and anti-piracy operations. In the future, China could establish a joint exercise mechanism with more countries, achieving breakthroughs in the number, scale, field and level of joint exercise and training, carrying out multilateral cooperation in intelligence sharing, special training to tackle with non-traditional security issues in Africa, including terrorism, piracy and transnational crimes.In response to piracy in the gulf of guinea, the establishment of cooperative mechanisms similar to the Guinea Initiative should be put on the table, to name just one example.
On the UN peacekeeping front, five of the seven missions currently undertaken by the Chinese military are in Africa. In the future, China's participation in peacekeeping operations in Africa will take on a stronger force and larger scale. As early as 2015, President Xi Jinping announced that China would build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 men and dispatch more engineering, transportation and medical personnel to participate in peacekeeping operations, and that China would provide AU with $100 million of free assistance to support the establishment of the African standing force and the African emergency response force, deploy the first helicopter unit to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, and the list goes on.
In addition, China should put into consideration the desire of western countries to cooperate with Africa, should fully come to the realization that the African issue is far beyond the capacity of one country to resolve, therefore should strengthen communication and coordination with western countries on African affairs.